Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Sabah and Nala 2009 to 2015


Sabah and Nala


Sabah and Nala, together again.

Friday, September 18, 2015

2015 Bike trip - Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.

This post was started in 2015. I am publishing it even though it is rough around the edges.

In 2013, the Great Allegheny Passage (a Rails-to-Trails project) was officially completed when they finished up a one mile section around Sandcastle Water Park, near Pittsburgh. With the completion of this section of trail, you could bike 150 miles from Point State Park, Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD then join up with the C&O Canal trail and take that 184.5 miles to Georgetown, Washington, D.C. I had been trying to make time for this trip for a few years and finally just forced it in to a tight time space. Sabah and I had four days to make the trip.

Sabah at Mid-Atlantic Regionals in Poolesville, MD before dropping the car off. She is getting ready to the life of R&R in the trailer.

I left my car with a friend in Washington, D.C. after an ultimate tournament. When I got back to Pittsburgh, I pushed a full work week into 4 days and then set out on Friday in the wee hours of the morning with all the standard gear for a bike trip and some absurd extras including a dog, laptop, and fifteen NES games. I was moving out of my wonderful summer spot and heading back to Houston so I could not pick up the laptop (from work) or NES games (that I forgot to pack in my car) later. I had a single pannier and trailer to carry everything. The trailer was mostly used for carrying Sabah, but also had my tent, sleeping, bag, and food.

Looking back, the main thing that stands out about this trip is that I needed more time. With stops to rest and let Sabah explore, we were averaging maybe 7mph which led to the need to bike from dawn to dusk. When I finally arrived in Washington, D.C. I spent two days barely able to walk down stairs without my quads giving out.

By the numbers (351 miles in 4 days, 1700ft elevation gain):
  • Day 1 (109.7 miles)
    • 4.7 miles - Lawrenceville, PA to Point State Park, Pittsburgh
    • 105 miles - Point State Park to Husky Haven in Rockwood, PA
  • Day 2 - 88 miles - Rockwood, PA to Fifteenmile Creek Drive-In Campground, Little Orleans, MD
  • Day 3 - 71.6 miles - Little Orleans, MD to Antietam Creek Camp Ground, MD
  • Day 4 (81.8 miles)
    • 68.5 miles - Antietam Creek Camp Ground, MD to Mile 0 'The Mole" on the C&O Canal in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
    • 13.3 miles - 'The Mole" to College Park, MD
Gear without food and water (129 lbs):
  • Trailer 105 lbs
    • 43.5lbs of gear and the trailer itself
    • 61.5 lbs of Sabah weight
  • Pannier 24lbs

The Carnegie Science Center and Heinz Field on the Pittsburgh North Side across the river from Point State Park fountain.

When you are biking the Eliza Furnace Trail, this is the first sign for the Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. trail

Birmingham Bridge and the Pittsburgh skyline.

The Pump House from the Carnegie Steel Company's Homestead Works, site of the 1892 battle during the Homestead Strike and Lockout.

I love Pittsburgh. The people. The buildings. It always feels right, like home. Slipping out of my favorite city as the sun rose was a great way to start our ride.

A map of Sabah and my bike trip from Acadia's in Pittsburgh to the Great Allegheny Passage to the C&O Canal to MikeLo's near the University of Maryland.

A pretty standard piece of the smooth packed crushed limestone that makes up the trail of the Great Allegheny Passage.

After a few miles of paved trails, we switched to the crushed limestone of the Great Allegheny Passage. The limestone made for a very smooth ride through the woods and sleepy Pennsylvania towns. The Trail Towns were so small that I can't recommend making them your points of interest. The best parts are between the towns, but the towns give you great resupply points where I got drinks and some wonderful full meals.

Sabah loved the frequent stops along the rivers.

Stained glass arch over the GAP in Connellsville, PA

Sabah making her way on the slow incline up to Ohiopyle and the Eastern Continental Divide.

I can't find any photos of the first town I slept in, Rockwood, PA. I was probably too tired to take any photos. I do know that I was too tired to set up a tent so I went into town and paid for a room at the Husky Haven. That first day ended up being my fourth century ride. The first and last ones were while fully loaded on a bike tour. The other two were on a mountain bike at elevation in Leadville, CO. One day, I need to try one on a skinny little road bike.

Youghiogheny River

Keystone Viaduct

An elevation chart for the Great Allegheny Passage.

The Eastern Continental Divide.

Big Savage Tunnel.

An overlook from the GAP trail.

The Mason-Dixon line.

The Mason-Dixon line.

Cumberland, MD where the Great Allegheny Passage meets the C&O Canal.

In Cumberland, MD, after a long downhill from the divide, the Great Allegheny Passage ended. Then, we picked up the 184.5 mile C&O Canal towpath. The canal loosely follows the Potomac river and passes through 74 canal locks as it winds its way down to Washington, D.C. It is a slow decline, but not enough for bikers to coast without pedaling. The canal was originally made for mules to pull barges at a plodding 3mph. The towpath is a packed down clay and not-very-crushed stone path that made for an almost continuously bumpy ride. When it rains, it gets really sloppy and hard to keep your speed up. Even when it is dry, the rocks keep you from easily keeping your speed up.

A standard primitive campsite on the C&O Canal towpath.

Pigmans Ferry Hiker Biker Campsite. These simple camp sites were every 5-10 miles on the C&O Canal.

Near Paw Paw Tunnel

The Paw Paw tunnel was nice, but what I really remember is the town of Paw Paw, WV. A sign on the trail had it marked as a place to get food. I went up the ~20% half mile incline to get to town. The food on their map was a gas station with slim pickings. While something was better than nothing, when I ascended the steepest hill on the trip, I was really hoping for something a bit more filling. I'm getting hungry thinking about it.

20th morning Dam No. 5 - one of the most idyllic spots on the trail.

C&O Canal Lockhouse - where people stayed to operate the canal locks.

Just down river from Dam No. 5

Stick throwing spot #45 for Sabah, just down river from Dam No. 5

Tait and Chelsea happened to be doing a road bike ride in West Virginia right near when I'd be passing through on the C&O Canal. After their ride, they waited in Williamsport, MD for me. When I finally got there, they were a sight for sore eyes. I was hungry and running on low on energy. We went to the biker friendly Desert Rose Cafe and ate. I have no idea what I ate, but I do remember it being really, really good. I was rough shape after 2.5 days of long riding without enough training. Seeing Tait and Chelsea was a perfect pick me up.

Duckweed cover on the C&O canal.

The Big Slackwater section of the C&O Canal Towpath that was repaired in 2012 to allow for an unbroken trail.

One of many good places along the canal for a break.

I spent my third night in Antietam Creek Camp Ground which is next to the battlefield. I have not been down there since I was in the Boy Scouts. After a great night's sleep wondering if an enormous raccoon would try to raid Sabah's food, I headed out for my final and what felt like my longest day of riding. I was running low on energy. It was drizzling and raining all day which made the C&O canal hard to ride. I got a flat tire on the trailer, but didn't notice until I was almost done. When I got to the Washington, D.C. I didn't have a good map or smart phone to guide me. When I felt lost, I would find a place to hide from the rain, boot up the work laptop, and google a bit. The last day's miles, particularly the last 5 miles of the canal, were a slog. On the plus side, I did find another Surly rider, found a place to get amazing breakfast sandwiches, and made it to MikeLo & Tami's place.

These birds were just waiting for me to keel over.

Scenic view along the C&O Canal towpath.

Great Falls Park. I'd like to spend more time here.

Great Falls Park

Sabah was also over riding in the rain and getting sprayed with the water from the tire.

Sabah was finally willing to lay down after spending the first three days standing in the trailer or running beside me.

We made it to Mile 1 of the C&O Canal towpath.

Mile 0 of the C&O Canal towpath (Google 'The Mole' if you are trying to find it).

A map for folks trying to find mile marker 0 without a smart phone. If you have a smart phone, just search for 'The Mole, Georgetown."

This trail is a great one. This trip was a good one. It would have been great with more time. When I do it again, we'll go at a slower pace or with Sabah pulling me. It would be the perfect intro for someone to bike touring because resupply points are frequent and you don't have to worry about car traffic. This would also be an ideal trail for 'credit card touring' where you head out the door with just your bike and buy meals and lodging along the way. Though, if you carry a smart phone to find food and lodging in towns or 'mile 0', you would be even better off.

I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of folks for helping make this trip happen. Thank you to Tait and Chelsea who met me on the way, Erin, Susan, and Kate who helped me plan the trip, Eddie who gave me a ride home after I dropped my car off, and MikeLo, Tami, Acadia, and Stu who housed me and took care of my car.

Saturday, July 04, 2015


Sometime at the end of 2014, someone forgot someone's birthday. As a way to balance that out, we were on our way to Nicaragua with some insanely priced $150 tickets with our dearest friend Lindsay.

Las Peñitas

Our adventures got started at the airport. A random girl with that 'ultimate player look' walked up to me. I couldn't remember her. It was KLS' teammate from masters nationals. We had sat next to her on the flight back from nationals the week before and she recognized my hat. KLS had no idea that she was also going to Nicaragua for a surf camp, let alone on the same flight. We made plans to meet up later that week. When we landed at 2am, we walked out into a sauna. KLS and her planning ways smartly booked us into a hotel across the airport.

They had air conditioning to sleep in and an amazing breakfast to gorge on. Once that was done, we started playing the gringo price game with taxis. We walked a bit away from the airport and flagged someone down. We found a super friendly guy and were on our way to the bus station. However, we ended up negotiating a price to get a ride all the way to the coast. While it was a little more expensive, this vacation wasn't one where we had time to spend so we spent the money.

The view from our house in Las Peñitas.

Las Peñitas was a sleepy little town on the coast where we did sleepy little things. It was so sleepy, I think we even struggled to scrounge up food to eat. We loaded up at a little market where you asked the vendor to hand you whatever you wanted. Then, it was back to strolling along the beach.

A map of our wanderings.
The view from Cerro Negro.

After a couple low key days, our next stop was a bit more adrenaline inducing. We hiked up the ridges and rim to the summit of Cerro Negro, an extinct volcano. On the way, the wind was blowing so hard that the you could easily lean into the wind and not fall over. The situation was made worse by carrying up wooden 'sleds' that were likely to try and lift you up if you held them at the wrong angle. The sleds were for getting back down the mountain in a hurry.

Kin-Ling tries to turn right turn while volcano boarding down Cerro Negro.

 After a forty-five minute hike up, we were given sled suits to protect our skin, goggles to keep pebbles our of our eyes, gloves to pretend to steer with, and about five minutes of instructions that amounted to try to use your hands to steer and use your feet to slow down, but not too much because you'll flip. Buena suerte (good luck).

We all made it down without incident, but we were left picking lava sand out of our hair for the next couple days. However, not everyone was so lucky. When we looked backup at another group we saw some people coming down 1.5x-2x faster than us because they oiled their sleds. We also saw a couple wipe outs.
Cerro Negro survivors.

Ferries to Ometepe?

After our sledding adventure, we went into Leon to get a bite to eat with our guide at some wonderful local place. Then, we managed our way to Rivas to get a ferry to Ometepe. We got in real late, missed the ferry, and checked into the only hotel we could find. Along the way, we found another theme to our trip. There were a lot of conversations started based around trying to sell us things we didn't want and negotiating for non-tourist prices for the things we did want. I hate haggling. It was hot. I got cranky. On the other hand, Lindsay shined with her ability to talk and make friends with anyone. Even when the conversation was started just to sell us an overpriced ride that veered on blatant scam, Lindsay took it in stride and turned the conversation into something more positive. Amazing.

The next morning, we were off to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua that was formed from two volcanoes.

Volcano Concepción, one of two major volcanoes that make up Ometepe

Standard boarding procedures on the public bus, Ometepe.

When we arrived at Ometepe, our airbnb directions were failing us badly. For the life of us, we could not figure out what was going on. We eventually found a little internet cafe with a modem connection that forced us to turn off the images on websites to even have a full web page load. As it turns out, there are two different boat terminals on Ometepe and we went to the wrong one. Just before we figured this out, we saw the not very frequent island bus drive by so we set off on foot with all our gear. The bus caught up to us long before we made it the 12km to the other terminal. When the bus did, we didn't use the door at the front. We were comically hauled into the back and were moving before the door was even closed behind us.

Ometepe - Ceiba (Silk Floss) Tree. There is a Nicaraguan myth that the dead climb these spikes to ascend to heaven.

Ometepe - insect carcasses

Waiting for sunset on Punta Jesús María, Ometepe

After we finally arrived at our blissful airbnb, we explored town a bit and went for a sunset stroll to Punta Jesús María. It was beautiful and peaceful. We saw tons of funky bugs and vegetation on the walk over there. The next day, we were off on scooters to explore more of the island. We went to a Charco Verde national park with howler monkeys and a single wild horse. We found Ometepe's very own version of Denver's Casa Bonita. While the front of the 'restaurant' had a giant menu, as far as we could tell, it was just someone's house with a picnic table in the back overlooking the water. We literally walked through the house, past the washer and dryer, to get the picnic table. After lunch, we walked right down to the beach from the picnic table.

Howler monkeys in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

Green lizard in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

More 'wildlife' in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

Lindsay and KLS.

Lindsay took many photos of dung beetles and other bugs.

An overlook in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe

A butterfly in Charco Verde National Park, Ometepe.

Playa San Fernando, Ometepe where we were told not to swim due to the cow pies.

Volcano Maderas, Ometepe on the western side of the island.

After strolling on the beach, we lounged at Ojo de Agua, a natural cold spring for swimming and escaping the heat. We swam. We drank out of coconuts. We watched people fall off a slack line (tight rope) and make huge splashes in the water. Lindsay even managed to find her very own nest of little leech like critters. She is very friendly and they really wanted to go with her. Finally, we also figured out that we have no idea how fix a scooter with a dying battery. That scooter got left behind.

Ojo de Agua, Ometepe - a natural cold springs swimming hole

Next up on our adventures was the surf town, San Juan del Sur. All the guidebooks rave about it, but it turned out to be our least favorite place. While we had some fun adventures, it felt like a small tourist party town, which wasn't quite what we were looking for. On the plus side, KLS and I had a great surf lesson. She stood up pretty quickly while I fell all about the place and chafed the inside of my leg by squeezing the surf board. We had an hilarious table hopping dinner on the beach with Maella, that had to be moved under the roof due to rain, then almost back out to the beach when the rain stopped, then back inside, then to a bigger table, and then I think to one last table. We finished up our time in San Juan del Sur with a lot of good food and a tree top tour that we normally wouldn't have gone because it was 'too touristy', but KLS sold us on it. It was a hoot and we even got see sloths and hold lizards.

Lindsay invokes her inner great ape on our tree top tour.

Lindsay makes a lizard face or maybe the lizard is making a Lindsay face

The final stop on our vacation was Granada, a small city of 125,000 people with a strong colonial history. We were only here for a day visit before heading the rest of the way to Managua for our red eye flight back to Houston. We explored the waterfront, roamed the markets, wandered into an artists' enclave, explored the local architecture, and mostly importantly watched Lindsay make friends with locals.

KLS' new friend in Granada

Iglesia de Guadalupe, Granada

KLS's favorite, buying fruit in Granada

A museum courtyard in Granada

Buying pottery in Granada

Lindsay's market friend.

A random street in Granada

KLS buys something for friend's kid in the Granada markets.

. . . and that was our trip. I was a bit tired, we were a bit rushed, KLS was energetic, and Lindsay continues to be one of the most amazingly friendly people we know. Nicaragua was fun. We'd go again.

As always, we finish with KLS consuming food (at Ojo de Agua, Ometepe)